Fan Fiction - Written by Doug Fowler - Book Universe

Friends From Above (or: Happily Ever After)
Written by: Doug Fowler

How do Mr. Bear & those like him work & interact? RKORadio's Samantha, used with permission, gives ideas of how he grew, became "real," & helped Stephanie & others, as she starts a writing career and family life. Sequel to "Bear Story"

A/N: Some things, like Bluey, from my "Imaginary Friends Forever" and "Bear Story." RKORadio's Samantha used with his permission, of course. See his Sam Series stories for Mr. Snuggle Bunny and others; notably 3.5 ("Just Like Family") and 4 ("Principal Mandy and Nanny Stephanie"), with 5 ("Samantha Strikes Back") referred to, also. For reasons stated in Stephanie's conversation with Mr. Bear, D.J. being proactive means Stephanie doesn't accidentally take the sweater in one season 2 episode. I hope you enjoy all of RKORadio's stuff, which I've helped with and he's graciously let me use. Joey's imaginary friend named, but not described, in "Rock the Cradle."

Book Universe; office in fourth bedroom, as noted in other Book Universe stories, with D.J. closer to Steph.

Stephanie, now in her early thirties, looked expectantly at Colin Douglass in the Tanner living room. "Well?" she asked, as he slowly hung up his cell phone.

"I just got traded," Colin explained, unsure of what to think.

Colin's wife, Samantha, leaned her head on his chest in the Tanner living room. "Someone must have wanted you a lot," she tried to console him.

Colin nodded and smiled at his wonderful prima ballerina wife. She'd been raised by Stephanie - and the entire Tanner family - since she was in Kindergarten, and Stephanie only ten. Neglect by Samantha's parents meant Samantha saw Stephanie as an emotional mother. It also meant Colin chose not to mention the other side of the equation; his team hadn't wanted him anymore. He'd have to get used to a new set of teammates and fans.

Stephanie's older sister, D.J., thought of that, too, when she reminded him, "You did want to change teams and come back to the Bay Area as a free agent when you could."

"Yeah. And, my agent said the team that got me needed lefty help. They've got a good shot at the World Series," Colin said. "I guess it'll work out,'s still a shock."

Michelle sat beside Samantha. "I hear you and Colin have the first book in a series idea ready," she said excitedly. Michelle loved kids, and ran a home daycare. She called to a college-aged helper to round up the kids from where they were playing, and said, "We should tell them some of your ideas, while you're visiting."

Stephanie agreed. "Focusing on Mr. Bear and those he helped is clever." Mr. Bear had been a favorite stuffed toy of Stephanie's, bought when Michelle came home from the hospital. "Friends like that are really special."

"They really can be gifts from God. Kids need comfort objects like that; some a lot more than others. I remember you said Mr. Bear was a great friend when your mom died," Samantha said. The girls' Uncle Jesse and their dad's best friend, Joey Gladstone, had moved in to help then, too.

"You're right. You really have a clever start," Stephanie said.

"It's just like I always imagined it," Samantha said with a grin, as they began the story.

Mr. Bear could still hear "Pomp and Circumstance" in his head, along with the advice of his mentor, Bluey. "If the child talks to you before they buy you, it's one thing. But, when a parent talks, you're in for some real fun. That's when you know they encourage imagination."

Most in the real world thought he'd spent idle time in a factory. Those with imaginations knew better, though. He'd actually learned a lot. But, it had been a whirlwind of activity since Mr. Bear graduated from a major stuffed animal school. He'd ended up in a hospital gift shop. Of course, he knew he could be purchased by an employee. But, he could easily go to a patient or sibling who was in need of a companion, or who had a lot of concerns.

Mr. Bear got excited as Pam Tanner walked up to him. "What a great looking bear," she said. "Stephanie will just adore your outfit; I can see her having so many adventures in her mind."

As Pam spoke, he sensed the girl getting him would be lots of fun to play with; so verbal and outgoing, even if there was no need to go through lots of troubles, he still stood a great chance of becoming real to his owner. That was the real major leagues of stuffed animal-dom, as their legendary forerunner, the Velveteen Rabbit, could attest.

He rode home in a package, along with a bracelet for an older sister, and of course the proud parents, Danny and Pam Tanner, and their baby, Michelle. He wondered what his surroundings would be like. What would he be named? Some animals kept their names - Disney characters, for instance - but even then, there could be additions (he'd met a Florida Snoopy) or changes (a Clifford was Red Snoopy) depending on the child. He had a name, but it was an advertising thing, easy to change.

He learned fast. "I'm going to call you...Mr. Bear," the blonde four-and-a-half-year-old said. "This is Mommy and Daddy. Of course, you met them." She continued to talk as everyone else raves over the newborn. And, as she quickly started showing him around the house, he began to sense something. Something that rarely happened, but could.

He'd gained some sort of...well, realness almost right away. Maybe not the extreme realness that some had; that took time. But, this type was still enjoyable. Being named quickly was a sign of that. Somehow, his name felt fitting.

"This is the nursery," Stephanie was saying. "Mommy put those pink bunnies up for me when I was little. Now I'm a big sister. There's an office in one bedroom. So, someday I'll move in with D.J. for a couple years. Here, let's see D.J.'s room." She quickly took him across the hall, as he tried to soak it all in. "Mommy's been trying to help us get along. We might come in here if I need to rest and the baby's napping, though I don't take naps." She must have her own power plant, Mr. Bear thought to himself.

"Steph, what are you doing?" D.J. asked as she poked her head into the room.

"Showing Mr. Bear around."

"Well, Michelle's not in her crib, so you don't need to be in here," D.J. said as she stepped into the room.

"We have to be somewhere. Everyone's paying attention to Michelle."

D.J. sighed. "Tell me about it."

"But, that's okay. I've got a new friend now. And, we can do stuff together, too," Stephanie said, remaining upbeat, oblivious to D.J.'s frustration over everyone fawning over the new baby.

"Well, hopefully, what Kimmy said about moving into our neighborhood will come true," D.J. said as she said on her bed.

"Kimmy? Isn't she a little weird for you?" Stephanie asked.

D.J. rocked back a bit. "Well, she needs help with things. Like thinking. And, she's a lot of fun, too."

Mr. Bear was excited. Stephanie turned to him and back quickly, and said, "Mr. Bear wants to know if she knows you can't drink the letter 'T'." She wasn't quite old enough to come up with that joke on her own, but she understood it from when Joey has a character try to drink a letter in a routine, and explained it for her.

D.J. didn't want Stephanie trying to play with them all the time. "I'll ask her. But, you have Mr. Bear now, so you won't be lonely."

"True," Stephanie said. Pam came up to talk to D.J., and Stephanie left. Little changes, because of that office instead of another bedroom on the second floor, meant Stephanie and Kimmy never developed any antagonism, though there would be mild jokes at first.

That night, with everyone asleep, Mr. Bear unfroze and walked into D.J.'s room. Pillow Person - a pillow with eyes, arms, and legs - hopped off D.J.'s bed and greeted him. "Hey, congratulations, Mr. Bear. Seems like you became real pretty fast. Stephanie was even hearing your 'voice' that one time in her imagination."

Mr. Bear told about Pam talking to him. "I hear she got you for D.J. when Stephanie was born." He wouldn't normally ask, because it wasn't considered polite to come right out and ask if a creature was real to its owner. But, from what he'd heard, he could guess that Pillow Person had been real at some point. "Are you as real to D.J.?"

"Not anymore; and, I never got to the level you seem to be. D.J. got this imaginary friend, 'Norton the Duck,' at the same time. And, a year later, six months into Kindergarten, she started to become good friends with Kimmy, the girl who is her best friend now. So, D.J. talked to me some, and I was real. But, nothing like you for Stephanie. My guess is, you're filling Norton's and my roles. Which means since you're a physical creature, unlike Norton, you stand a chance of being friends for a lot longer."

"That makes sense. With that Joey around, there's even more people to encourage imagination. And, Danny and he both pretend to do Michelle's voice already," Mr. Bear noted. Pillow Person laughed and agreed.

Back in the present, a mother came to pick her children up from Michelle's. "Miss Michelle's givin' us a sneaky preview," one child said.

Michelle told the mother about the story. "It's only the All-Star Break. It should be out by Christmas. I'm sure your kids will love a copy."

"I'll sign it," Samantha offered. The woman thanked her and left soon afterward.

"That was really interesting, telling all about how the schools work, and the different classes. Didn't you say something about including our mom's death in the story?" D.J. asked, as one of Stephanie's kids came from playing with his siblings and cousins, and got her diaper changed by Stephanie.

"That was a challenge," Samantha said, recalling how they'd struggled with how to make Mr. Bear - and others - real to young readers. "It's fun to get into a character like that. Stephanie gave us insight into how she coped; and how she pictured Mr. Bear coping."

"We didn't go into much detail - we didn't want Pam's death to be the main focus - but it can still start some good conversations if the readers choose," Colin said.

Stephanie agreed. "I like how you explain how stuffed animals learn, in the weeks leading up to the accident. It really sounds plausible." Samantha thanked her, and they continued with the story.

Mr. Bear unfroze, then sighed. He looked up at Rollie, a rhinocerous. "How do medical school interns do it?"

"Maybe that's why Sleeping Beauty took that 100-year nap. She was getting off her rounds," Rollie joked.

"I believe it." Mr. Bear let out a "whoosh." "It's crowded in here. With that office in the fourth bedroom, though, Granny Tanner was going to have to sleep in here or the nursery with Stephanie and Michelle. And, so the baby didn't face even more interruptions, Stephanie and Granny Tanner both moved in with D.J., although Granny Tanner will probably move up to the unfinished attic soon."

"You sure do ramble like Stephanie," Pillow Person said. "You can probably take a break, since she climbed in bed with D.J. now."

Mr. Bear nodded slowly, and hopped out. "I guess you're right. I don't think she's let go of me since we heard."

Rollie had come in from the nursery. He remarked, "It's rough on all of us. You haven't had much time to talk to any of your professors, but we've been talking to some. Michelle's got a few animals, and they're all putting their heads together."

"That could hurt," Mr. Bear said, forcing a grin. "Seriously, at least their mom had time to help D.J. and Stephanie get a little closer before her time was up. D.J.'s going to be more dedicated than she would have been had she not had to share a room when Michelle was napping, if Stephanie needed a place of her own. Unfortunately, D.J. never really talked to you," he told Pillow Preson.

"I'm afraid not. D.J. tries to be so mature; which might help eventually, but I can't really work in that area, since I'm not as real anymore...." Pillow Person chuckled. "Here I am, being just like her again. I'm trying to be the best; I want the perfect term for what D.J. is to me, and Steph is to you. If we're imaginary friends to them..."

"Real friends? Well, real friends can be real friends, too," Mr. Bear noted.

"Counterpart?" Rollie suggested.

Mr. Bear nodded. "Yeah. I like 'counterpart.' Anyway, one of the roughest parts of being so real to a child like Stephanie is that you have to be able to actually help with things. And, other than just telling her people live right up till the end, and we just never know when that end is going to be - stuff that really comes from them and a bit of a tug of the Holy Spirit - it's hard to know what to say when a mother dies in an accident like that."

"I really like that book the people at Sesame Street wrote about Mr. Hooper's death," Rollie said. "I guess it's possible to use that. That's one thing Bluey suggested when I talked to him."

"True. One thing's for sure. We're going to need all the help we can get. We just have to remember that we're gifts from above. Gifts that help others feel more comfortable, and help develop faith in things they can't see," Pillow Person noted. "If they don't turn to us because they have that faith otherwise, that's great. But, I'm ready for anything; even for D.J. to start talking to me again. She's only ten, after all. And, at times like this, you have to express yourself somehow, and let those feelings out. Or, try to figure out what it is you are feeling first. Even if you have to practice with an imaginary friend."

A couple years later, in early February, Stephanie was talking with Mr. Bear a little after bedtime. It was a good example of how such stuffed animals interacted with their counterparts; their voices could be "heard" in the child's mind, they could even offer suggestions or help the child think of things, but their function culd be anywhere from playmate to conscience to confidant - and numerous other things.

"D.J.'s really getting to be like Mom, isn't she, Mr. Bear?" Stephanie sighed. "I'm glad she looks out for me."

Mr. Bear agreed. "Even if you hadn't asked about that sweater, she still would have checked to make sure you still had me in the bag at the store today," he said.

Stephanie nodded. "I guess you're right. D.J. says I get too mad at myself sometimes. She says she's the same way, 'cause she always wants to be the best. Do you think I'm being mad at myself, Mr. Bear?"

"Well, D.J. had already told your dad about the sweater getting messed up. It almost got ruined completely on the playground. You didn't have to try to find another one. But, you did ask D.J., since you're closer than you wuld have been. So, yeah, you probably are being too hard on yourself. You made an honest mistake. And, D.J. understood; she just told you to ask her or an adult before doing anything a sign says. She didn't even tell your dad, since nothing bad happened," Mr. Bear concluded.

Stephanie smiled. "I guess you're right. I just don't like it when words don't mean what they're supposed to mean; you know what I mean."

"The world is a lot more complex; that's why it's great to have a wonderful family like you've got. And, why it's important to have friends to figure things out with. Even imaginary ones," Mr. Bear said. "Although, I know we're real to you."

"Sure. I guess, in a way, you really are me. Or, am I you? I don't know." D.J. walked in, ready for bed herself, and asked if Stephanie was still up. "Yeah. Mr. Bear and I wanted to say 'thanks' for watching me today."

D.J. went over and sat on the side of Stephanie bed as she spoke. "Anytime, Steph. I'm glad you're willing to ask me questions. Of course, even if you weren't I'd have been watching, since I've learned to be more proactive. But, still..." she trailed off.

"The saleslady heard you explaining that to me in front of the sign. She said she's sure Mom would be proud of you," Stephanie recalled. "I'm proud of you, too."

D.J. chuckled lightly. "Thanks. It's been rough. But, one thing I can say for sure. I really feel rewarded for the effort. I hope someday, you can help Michelle like that, too."

Mr. Bear said he was sure Stephanie would do a great job. However, Stephanie knew only she could "hear" him. So, she told D.J. what Mr. Bear said.

"I think Mr. Bear is right," she said, giving her a little squeeze and a peck on the forehead, before saying good night.

Colin and Samantha brought several copies of their book into the Tanner living room a few months later. "Hey, congratulations again, that was quite a final game," D.J. and her husband, Steve Hale, said.

"Yep. I'm glad Samantha was able to see it. What part of the planet were you performing in again?" he asked jokingly.

"I know, honey, it seems like I'm all over the place. But, I got a few days off, and I do plan to retire at the end of your free agent year," Samantha repeated. "Well, okay, maybe January or February of the next year - one last overseas tour."

"Hey, if you're having second thoughts, it's okay; you can dance as long as you want, sweetie," Colin promised.

"Thanks." She thought for a moment, with Stephanie tempted to intervene, but deciding not to. "We start our season at the start of the year in San Francisco, then tour later, so it makes sense. I don't like parting that much. But, it'll help remind me I like it better close to home, without all the travel, she said with a laugh."

Michelle decided she should say something, since Samantha seemed unwilling. "Plus, you said you want to go out on top, right?" It was partly to encourage her to remember something they'd discussed quite a bit earlier, too.

"You're right, thanks." She turned to Colin. "Ballerinas can't keep coming back at my level in their late 20s. There's no such thing as a knuckleball ballerina in her 40s on the world level; and, even in their 30s, well...remember how I said I might start to feel old if my skills started to diminish, if I couldn't kick quite as high or whatever." Colin nodded. "I know I'd still be good - maybe even really good for a while. But, the level I'm at now, well, I know I couldn't keep it up into my 30s."

"You'd always be good," Colin encouraged her.

"Thanks. And, I could still dance some, I just don't' want the pressure of having to be what was at 25 when I'm 35," she explained.

"Plus," Stephanie added gently, "you and I agree you want to be free from the worst of professional life when you have your first baby." Samantha concurred.

"I know - things get you down a lot, if you're not careful. It's something good to know about yourself, so you can prevent it, " Colin said soothingly. "The nice thing about writing is, it's a career you can keep up and keep improving at till you're a hundred."

"That's right; I never want to think of myself as old!" Samantha declared. "How long does Cousin Steve plan to pitch?" she asked the Tanner sisters. Steve Tanner, son of Danny's older sister, had gotten a scholarship to Stanford in baseball, and had pitched for the Cubs, among other teams, including winning the 2003 World Series with them.

"Actually, he's pretty sure about hanging them up, though he'd joke about pitching till he was 60. He said he's accomplished everything he can or wants to," Stephanie remarked.

"Yep. Now, I have my World Series ring, I have a marvelous wife, and I've even started a few games, though I'm mainly a reliever.," Colin said.

"He even hit a home run this year," Samantha said. "With a strong breeze blowing out, but still, that was one thing you really wanted, wasn't it?" she asked lovingly.

Colin agreed. "We can both come back to the Bay Area then." Colin handed Michelle one of the books. "We signed books for each of the kids you watch. They're advanced copies, though; they're not supposed to be out for a few weeks; after Thanksgiving."

"They'll still be the first ones. The parents asked if I could open my house at 5 AM so they can go shopping," Michelle responded.

"Wow. Do you need help with the food for our picnic?" Colin asked. D.J. said they could use some, and they went into the kitchen to help Michelle's husband, Jeff Farrington - who worked on the TV show "Wake Up, San Francisco" with the girls' dad, Danny Tanner - along with Stephanie's husband and Danny.

"Did you ever talk to Pillow Person when your mom died?" Samantha asked D.J. as they sliced vegetables.

"No, I had Kimmy then," D.J. said. "That's one thing she was always good at was listening. Sometimes it was because she didn't have to open hr mouth to do it. But, she was really a great comfort."

"It's too bad she never thought about being a counselor," Colin remarked.

D.J. said it wouldn't have worked. "She listens well, but her advice can be pretty strange sometimes. She was even worse before she and Duane had their girl."

"Even then, just last week they were out of root beer, so Kimmy told her girl to make a root beer float out of chocolate ice cream and prune juice," Michelle said. The others made faces. "It tasted as bad as it sounds. And, it was such a waste of good chocolate." The group giggled. Michelle and her sisters always watched Kimmy's girl. "At least at a salon, people aren't expecting professional advice. She just has to make sure her scissors aren't too close to their ears if they start laughing."

"I talked to Mr. Bear for a few years, even with Allie and Harry and Walter as friends. Plus, I had you," Stephanie said, turning to Michelle. "You've always kept me young."

"I don't think you're supposed to say that till you're a lot older," Jeff kidded her.

Samantha saw Jesse and Jeffy - Michelle and Jeff's boys - coming in from playing. "Aunt Sammie," they said as they each hugged her. "Did you write us 'nother story?" they each asked.

"It takes a long time to write even one good story," Samantha said. "But, sit down, and I'll tell you some of the story Uncle Colin and I wrote while we work on dinner." They sat, and as they prepared food, the ladies started where the boys requested - when Michelle was in Kindergarten.

Mr. Bear chuckled as he looked at the gathered "students." "One of the problems with being so real to your counterpart - even as they approach age ten, they can still talk to you a fair amount. Some will even do it into their teens. That's why we usually just guest lecture and..." A "boing" was heard as a cell phone, which looked like a frog, hopped out of his pocket and started jumping around the room. Mr. Bear chased after it as he said, "Sorry, I put it on 'vibrate' but I must have had it up too high."

One of Michelle's stuffed animals was on the other end as Mr. Bear finally answered his phone. "Hey, could you come back for a little bit? We've got some problems."

"Why, what happened?"

"Well, you know how Michelle's been pushing Stephanie to help a lot in school, calling her a genius since she helped that first day of Kindergarten? Well, D.J. and the others have been good at advising her, but now their Uncle Jesse's in the hospital because of appendicitis, so she might turn to you a bit more for a few days."

Mr. Bear shook his head and apologized to the class after another moment. "Like I said, we get pretty busy sometimes. I'll leave you to my assistant, I need to calla cb." He whistled. "Here, cab, here, cab." A taxi rolled up right outside the window, and he climbed out whie patting it on the roof. "Good cab." He got in, and a big circle with a bunch of crawling worms opened up as the cab went through.

"Don't tell me - a wormhole," a bear said.

"What else?" the assistant asked.

Samantha and Colin were discussing the story with Stephanie and Michelle later. "Well, this is it. It's official. I signed with the Athletics, and Samantha's retiring in a few months," Colin said. He put an arm around Samantha. "You're sure you won't be bored?"

"I'll have a wonderful family here, I can help Stephanie teach dance. And, who, knows; maybe we can start a family of our own," Samantha said.

"I wonder what your kids' stuffed animals will be like," Michelle joked. "According to your book, Mr. Snuggle Bunny might already know."

"It's possible." Samantha grinned broadly. "I still remember when you gave him to me, Michelle; for my sixth birthday. My parents had given me so many things. But, your family was the first to give me anything that seemed to have 'I love you' attached."

Stephanie squeezed her and said, "That's what we're here for; to help others. In a way, that love is what helps a child to know about faith. It's what lets them know faith is even possible. That's why it's so important to show unconditional love to others."

"You do a great job of explaining things, so kids are encouraged to help, too," Michelle said. Samantha thanked her, as they considered that part of the story.

Mr. Bear had placed a cartoon-like hole on the package Michelle had wrapped and placed under her bed. This allowed Mr. Snuggle Bunny to climb out as the children were sleeping. "Hi, I'm Mr. Bear," he said. "We spoke on the phone."

"Yes, it was kind of crowded sitting on it," the stuffed pink rabbit said. "So, it sounds like I'm going to be real pretty fast?"

"I'm not sure. The girl who will be getting you needs a lot of encouragement; a lot of help with stuff." He shared some memories from his being brought home, then from when Pam died. "Whether she'll take you to school, I'm not sure, but she'll share a lot of worries with you. They're trying to encourage her to talk to people, and Stephanie has been working tons with her. So, I think she'll be verbal enough to talk to you. But, as I say, anything is possible."

Mr. Snuggle Bunny agreed. "It's strange. All those classes you take, all your degrees, nothing really prepares you for the real world of being a true friend to someone."

"Tell me about it. When their mother died, I felt like there was so little I could do. But, I did what I could. I listened. Just like any kid can do; like Stephanie and even Michelle can, at her age."

"True. Sometimes that's what people really need. Just like you were saying Kimmy was there for D.J.," the bunny said.

"I was a soft, comfortable companion that Stephanie could take anywhere. She even put me on their dad's bed quite a few nights in case he needed to talk or something, though he didn't need me there." The bear thought for a moment. "Well, he probably did, with how much he cleaned for a while, but that's another story." They talked for a while, as Mr. Bear gave more specifics.

Days later, at the party at the Tanners' home, Michelle handed Samantha - then known as Sam - her gift. The younger girl was incredibly excited as she opened it while Danny recorded the event. "Oh, Michelle, he's so cute and cuddly."

Joey Gladstone, ever a comedian, agreed. "He'll be a great friend. Mr. Bear taught him everything he knows."

"What about your imaginary friend, Joey?" Jesse kidded him.

"He's not around much, he's too busy playing hockey."

"I thought you said he was a moose," Becky, Jesse's wife, said, a little confused.

Joey explained. "He is. He was a six-foot moose at first, then when my dad got stationed in Michigan for a few years, he learned to play hockey."

"That's where Joey gets his love of Detroit sports," Danny added.

Sam giggled. "A moose that plays hockey. That's silly!" She loved the lively and funny banter of the Tanner household. It was so different from the dull, non-talking parents she lived with. And, it was the silliness the Tanners shared which would fuel her imagination.

"Sure. He'll talk, too. Try it out. What did you name him?"

"Mr. Snuggle Bunny," she told Joey as she hugged the furry friend tightly.

"Hey, that's a great name. Don't you think so, Mr. Snuggle Bunny?" Joey threw his voice so it sounded like the rabbit talked, then did a handful of other animals, making Sam and the other girls laugh hard.

"You know, Joey, I think a dozen voices is a little much for her right now," Danny said.

Joey smiled apologetically. "Sorry, I just get into this stuff so much; it's so fun!"

"Yeah, well, we need to remind Sam she can have a wonderful life outside of an imaginary world, too," Jesse said. He turned to her and remarked, "I've seen those ballet moves like you've been doin' the last few months. Man, you're great at that, Sam"

"Yeah; you're gonna be the best ever!" Michelle said excitedly.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny learned a few nights later just how much of a friend Sam needed. Michelle and Sam had played with their stuffed animals quite a bit, and Michelle had encouraged Sam's imagination a lot by doing that. Now, Sam laid awake, and talked with him for what seemed like hours. Nobody seemed to care that it was the middle of the night. Least of all, Mr. Snuggle Bunny. He knew he'd found a home. And, he would be a true friend for life.

Sam - who started to go by Samantha a couple years later - had also started to spend all her time at the Tanners or at other friends houses then. By the end of her fourth grade year, Samantha felt comfortable enough going to dance school in New York; she had the talent to be a professional, and was actually in a group of youth 11-18, at only 10. And, of course, she took Mr. Snuggle Bunny along. The Tanners went to see her perform in New York in August, before flying back home with her and the other dancers.

Once home, Samantha couldn't stop talking about how wonderful it was. She finally got to sleep one night, however, allowing Mr. Snuggle Bunny to have some time to discuss things with Mr. Bear and the others, in the room she shared with Stephanie and Michelle, on a rollaway bed beside Michelle's.

"She's really grown up, hasn't she?" Mr. Bear remarked.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny agreed. "She's starting to have faith in God to help. As you said, we're physical comfort objects that help kids - and grownups sometimes, I guess - learn to have that faith. But, she still really loves talking to me and just holding me. I guess that'll never change."

"You're right. Each kid is unique in the way they use their stuffed friends," Pillow Person said. "She'll probably keep you around on a shelf with she's an adult. She'll really treasure those memories of feeling confident and loved."

"Right. So she can be sure they overshadow the sad feelings, if nothing else," Mr. Snuggle Bunny said. "Hairy, the lion, and a few others are close to her, too. And, she asked me a question when we were there that none of us have been able to figure out."

"He told me over the phone," Mr. Bear said.

"How far over it were you?" Pillow Person asked.

"A few feet. Anyway, she asked if stuffed animals would be in Heaven. She said she asked Jesus in prayer, too, and she wasn't sure of the answer," the rabbit said.

Mr. Bear recollected that, "When Stephanie prayed to God for me to be found, she had faith that God would look after me because He knew what I meant to Stephanie. She didn't put it in so many words, but it was a wonderful, simple, prayer of faith. That's why He wants people to go right to Him. He says people can go boldly before the throne of grace, and in the Bible. And, He wants people to admit they need help. God knows what we stuffed animal friends mean to our counterparts. I think there can be reminders of us in Heavenly mansions, but I don't think we'll be living creatures or anything."

"That makes sense. You remember how I said Danny cleaned a lot at first after Pam died?" Pillow Person asked. The others nodded. "I overheard D.J. say recently that he was trying to fill a hole in his heart. And, that people try to fill holes in their hearts by themselves, when only Jesus can fill those holes, they're too big. But, she said God gives us things to help fill them, too. People just have to realize they're from Him, and be thankful to the Giver."

"Like, He uses us?" Mr. Snuggle Bunny guessed.

"Right. Do you think Samantha understands that?" Mr. Bear asked.

Mr. Snuggle Bunny rubbed his chin. "Probably. She's realized the important part, that faith that gets us to Heaven. She knows Jesus Christ was God in flesh, that He lived a perfect life, took the punishment for her sins when He died on the cross for her, and He rose from the dead. And, she's received His forgiveness by simple faith. She's asked for His forgiveness and trusted Him as her Savior. A free gift anyone can receive by just trusting Him to make them new inside and come live in their heart. Whether she can understand that part about filling holes yet, I'm not sure. But, she has heart knowledge of the main stuff. And, when she talks to me, I'll try to, well, suggest it to her in the way we can, somehow, when they use us like that."

"Sure; that's all you need to do. Then, just let her take that step of faith," Mr. Bear said.

Toward Christmas, Samantha was talking with Mr. Snuggle Bunny.

"I'm glad everything got straightened out at school. Everything's so hard sometimes," she lamented, thinking about the confrontation as she tried to run for class president. "But, that just shows how much Stephanie and Michelle and their family all love me so much. No matter what." Samantha smiled broadly as she thought for a moment. "I guess they're showing what they say about God. He loves me that way, too."

She thought for a moment, and something came to her mind.

"I feel so warm and loved and comfortable with them. I guess you're gifts, too. Not as much as them, of course, but you remind me of how Michelle cares about me." She said a silent prayer of thanks for her stuffed animals. "I had so many holes in my heart. My real friends have helped me the most. But, you're great gifts, too."

Stephanie was reminiscing about that time soon after Samantha's retirement as a prima ballerina. Stephanie was working on a freelance article, waiting for Samantha. Samantha really understood how to fill those holes in her heart. She had so many great friends, with a network Stephanie had made secure. And, she knew there were rough times, but she also knew the truth that was written on a cross-stitch pattern she'd made for Stephanie over several long flights.

It showed a cute picture, with a caption: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above." Samantha had said it represented how she felt about the love Stephanie had shown her all these years, but also her faith that even those little things that were so good, like her stuffed animals, were things to help her overcome the tough times on earth.

Stephanie looked at it and got excited. Samantha had called Stephanie, promising exciting news, and Stephanie wondered...

Oh, what was the point? Stephanie figured she could tell what the exciting news was. It seemed to show in how Samantha had glowed the last few weeks. Then, there was the morning sickness soon after she'd performed her last ballet around Christmas. But, she wanted to hear it firsthand.

Samantha and Colin came in the door and proclaimed excitedly, "I'm pregnant!"

Samamtha looked at Colin and chuckled as Stephanie shrieked with glee and hugged he. "You're not pregnant, silly, I am."

"I'll be here to support you as best I can," Colin promised. "I'm sure Steph and her family will be, too."

Stephanie agreed as she led Samantha into the house, and all sat on the couch; her kids were taking naps. "You better believe it. You are going to be so ready; D.J., Michelle, and I have all been through it. You won't have a care in the world. Okay, what am I saying; of course you will, I know you're nervous right now. But, what I mean is that everything will be taken care of, and I think teams give their players days off to come for the birth nowadays, don't they, Colin?"

Colin started giggling, and the others followed - Stephanie knew that had been a major league ramble. "Was that all supposed to be one sentence?" he asked.

"I thought I was nervous, Colin. But, I think Mom's even more nervous," Samantha said, using the name she occasionally used for Stephanie now; she'd known for well over a decade that Stephanie really was all a mother was supposed to be to her.

"Yeah, I guess I am. This is just so exciting. I just hope, for Dad's sake, she doesn't call me Grandma. I mean, that would make him a great-grandpa, and I know he's not ready for...wait a minute. I said she. Or, are you having a boy? Wait, it's not twins, is it? Oh, I don't know if you can handle twins, I mean, one will be a challenge, but two? And, imagine if there were three!" Stephanie caught herself this time. "Okay, I better stop before I get up to a dozen or so."

"Relax, they only heard one heartbeat. And, we're not quite sure of the gender yet," Samantha replied. She admitted, "When the baby comes, that'll be the easy part. The hard part's going to be letting go later."

Stephanie nodded. "Tell me about it. I like how, in your next book, you talk about how stuffed animals can help people through tough times even when they get older. You've taken Mr. Snuggle Bunny on all your ballet tours, haven't you?"

"Yeah. It's great to have comfort like that. I remember the first time I went overseas dancing, without you guys. It was rough, but I'd been to New York for dance camp that one summer, after fourth grade, and even though you said I could, I never had to call you to come. Of course, we had e-mail by then, so we talked a lot," Samantha recalled.

Colin agreed. "Yeah, it was really amazing for me, too, because I was playing ball in high school yet, too." Colin was a year ahead of Samantha. "It amazed me how you co-ordinated everything and keep track of where everyone was and what number?' he asked Stephanie. Stephanie just shrugged, not wanting to mention that she'd had a huge network of people keeping track of Samantha almost from the start. Instead, she simply recalled what those days in high school were like for Samantha.

Samantha smiled as she looked at fellow high school sophomore Courtney Larkin. She told her best friend, "I think there's a way you can call overseas, but the plan only lets it be one number, and of course my cell has to have Stephanie cell on it."

"I understand, Samantha. It'll only be for a couple weeks, anyway."

They got papers out of their lockers on the last day before spring break. They waved "hello" to a few friends as they saw Michelle - a senior - and left Bayview High. As Michelle drove them home, Samantha talked with excitement about her upcoming ballet trip. She'd be performing for two weeks. She'd have a long flight - but, she also had a week of homework she could do, and papers that would be due a week or two after she got back.

As much as Stephanie tried to help her stayed focused on school, being a teenager, part of her thoughts were on Colin. "It'd be nice to see him play this year, but I don't know if I can now," Samantha lamented. Colin went to a high school about 25 minutes away.

"I'm sure he understands. He probably wishes he could come watch you, too," Courtney noted. She was between relationships, and didn't want to take any situation too fast, but was glad that Samantha had someone steady who loved and cared for her so much.

Michelle concurred as she opened the door of the Tanner home for Samantha and Courtney. "Jeff's busy with a project right now - I don't see him every day."

Samantha agreed. "It's just so hard to wait. But, I'm sure that one day, we'll be together as a couple. After all, we are getting closer." Danny greeted them as the teens entered and headed upstairs to Samantha's room.

They found Stephanie coming down from the attic apartment - which had been Uncle Jesse and Aunt Becky's, then D.J.'s till she and Steve married. "Hey, I thought you'd be home about now. Are you all set?" Stephanie asked.

"Pretty much." Samantha turned to Michelle. "I know, you said it before; it'll be just like when I went to New York, only with customs involved this time."

"Yeah. Besides, they still speak English in London. At least you don't have to learn a whole new language," Michelle teased.

"Right, only about a hundred different terms for things," Stephanie quipped.

Samantha entered the room she'd moved into a few years earlier - and, which she'd used so often since years before that. "It's just so hard to believe. But, it's like my ballet coach says," she continued as she put down her books. "We're a family. Just like Colin's team is, and wherever he gets drafted will be. I wonder if your cousin Steve can talk the Cubs into looking at him after a few years of college."

"We'll be sure to mention it," Stephanie promised.

"Even if he doesn't," Courtney assured her, "I know Colin will find good family men as friends and mentors."

"I know. I guess it's part of how I like things planned out. Just like you've always done for me, Stephanie," Samantha said.

Michelle put an arm around her as Samantha picked Mr. Snuggle Bunny up, to put him into her carry-on bag. "You'll always have close friends with you."

"Even imaginary ones," she teased Michelle. "Of course, I've got lots of good real ones, too. I just think about what you guys said when you got him for me. Comfort objects are really there to build your faith. They help you see things can turn out okay, and that there will always be someone there who you can turn to. Sure, that's what family is for. But, ones like Mr. Snuggle Bunny provide something special. Something that's hard to put into words." She looked at the stuffed rabbit and continued. "Colin and I have talk about writing childrens' books. He's a good artist, and I've some clever ideas. But, I think some of the best ideas are ones that are too special for words. Like, just what stuffed friends mean to some people."

"Sure. God's real - I knew when I prayed for Mr. Bear's safe return when I'd lost him one day, and things like that," Stephanie said. "But, it takes faith to see Him. It's like it takes a special machine to see light that's beaming from a flashlight to the spot on the wall where it shines. And, it takes time for that to build up at times. Thankfully, that comfort we feel from our stuffed animals - from a Mr. Bear, or Mr. Snuggle Bunny, or whoever, helps reminds kids we don't have to see or touch things to know they're there."

"Sure. Just like you'll know Stephanie and Michelle and the others are there for you in London when you're performing," Courtney said.

Samantha agreed. "I guess that's why he's so special - just like Mr. Bear was for you, Stephanie. Of course, I needed him even more, but it's still the same thing." She chuckled as she added, "I'll leave him home when I go into the hospital to deliver babies, though."

"Yeah, but you can still take him with you when you're a pro. And you're gonna grow into the best ballerina. When you get out of high school you'll go all over the world!" Michelle exclaimed.

"And, you'll make a great writer, a great mother; you'll be great at whatever you do. Because, you'll know we're always there for you."

"I never could have done it without you, Stephanie," Samantha said as she hugged her. "You've realy given me wings." She paused. "It's funny. I talk about how a little bit of faith is inside all that belief in stuffed animals. But, you've made that possible, too." She found it hard to put into words. But, with the unconditional love the Tanners had shown, she really could see Jesus in them.

It was mid-September, back in the present. "Twenty-five years together, Stephanie. Can you believe it?" Samantha asked as she and Stephanie waited.

"We've made a great team, Samantha." Stephanie held her hand as the labor pains intensified. "Colin should be getting here any minute, he caught a flight as soon as he could," Stephanie reassured her. "You timed it well; their game was just getting over when you went into labor."

As they waited in the delivery room, they discussed their wonderful family, and how good things would be. Samantha would have some trouble putting her firstborn in timeout right away, but Colin would when he was home, and Michelle and Stephanie would help in that. It figured that the way things were when Samantha was little, feeling so neglected till she met Stephanie when she was five, she'd want to really coddle her baby. The bond wouldn't break, though, just because she sat her little girl in the corner. Thankfully, she'd never have to get very tough with any of her kids.

Colin rushed in when the contractions were at two minutes. Joey was there, too. Joey ahd always loved to act like a kid, which made him the perfect father figure for Samantha almost since the start. Colin passed Joey a quizzical look, and Joey said, "Let's see; how far apart are the contractions? Well, 'Let's' was a contraction, and Stephanie said "Here's Colin' when you came in ten seconds ago, so they're about ten seconds apart."

Stephanie had to laugh. "I expect that complex a joke from Jeff. Although I guess you've told them, too. Many times," she reminisced fondly. Jeff was a class clown who grew to have the best aspects of all three men in the girls' lives, Danny, Jesse, and Joey. Michelle and he, just like Stephanie and D.J. with their husbands, were very happy.

Joey told Samantha to remember her courage hangy ball. Samantha screamed again, and began to push. The doctor and nurses got into position, and soon, out came a healthy baby girl - Michelle Courtney.

They all wept, not just at the beautiful miracle of birth, but in the fabulous miracle that had allowed Samantha, a scared and scarred little girl, to turn into a fabulous and graceful ballerina. She'd matured into a compassionate and caring lady that even reminded Stephanie of her late mother, Pam, in the wonderful way in which she would love and cherish family all the days of her life, and mold her kids into wonderful people, with the same great tradition of unconditional love that they'd always shared.

Stephanie considered their mom, and what she must be thinking from up above as Samantha and Colin gazed warmly at their newborn. "Mom may not have lived to see things here on earth," Stephanie mused. "But her love, her goodness, her warmth, had been felt by many, even without knowing or remembering her."

Yes, Samantha and Colin would have troubles, but so did Pam and Danny. And yet, Pam and Danny refused to define happiness by whether they had money in the bank, or a place of their own, or whether plans or promises had gone awry, or hearts had been broken. Those were mere circumstances.

Like them, Samantha and Colin realized that circumstances can change, but that we can choose to remain committed to feeling affection and warmth for each other, even in the midst of strife and turmoil. That, to them, would be true happiness. And, in so doing, they could rise above those, knowing better times lay ahead, in Heaven where each knew they'd go if not here. And, they would get through those tough times, just as the Tanners had after Pam's death. Just as they always would.

Samantha and Colin smiled proudly as they looked upon their beautiful baby, and contemplated that fabulous future that lay ahead. Filled with faith in Christ's love for them and ability to overcome obstacles and give them that wonderful hope, they ventured into that bright future, full of promise, and committed to showing their children the incredible warmth, love, and happiness the Tanners had showered upon Samantha.